UN envoy Stephanie Williams calls the situation in Libya a “serious crisis”.
On Wednesday, the acting envoy of the United Nations for Libya said that there are more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, warning of a “serious crisis” as weapons continue pouring into the country.
During an online meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, Williams said; “That is a shocking violation of Libyan sovereignty ... a blatant violation of the arms embargo.”
Consisting of 75 members, the forum aims to get Libya’s warring parties to agree on a mechanism that would establish a transitional administration to lead the country through presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2021.
Her remarks also reflected disappointment over the lack of progress on the departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya as it was a part of the ceasefire deal signed in October.
According to that pact, foreign forces and mercenaries had three months to leave the war-torn North African country. United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, was to make recommendations to the UN Security Council by the end of November on proposals for ceasefire monitoring in Libya. However, he has delayed this until the end of December because of the ongoing negotiations between warring sides as per the letter sent by the Secretary-General to the council.
Tensions in Libya increased following Khalifa Haftar’s offensive on the UN-backed government of the GNA last year. The GNA was able to push the warlord and his militias’ back with help from Turkey.
In her speech, Stephanie Williams also slammed foreign governments for “behaving with complete impunity” and deepening the Libyan conflict with mercenaries and weapons.
So which countries and mercenary groups was Williams talking about?
Last May, reports emerged that Russia is planning to send mercenaries from Bashar al Assad’s regime forces to fight alongside warlord Khalifa Haftar’s militias against the UN-backed government GNA forces in Libya.
Since April, Russia’s plan to reinforce Haftar’s militia with Assad regime fighters has been in action. On April 24, it was revealed that a high-ranking Russian commander, along with his team, had multiple meetings with those fighting with Assad regime forces in Daraa, while Russia reportedly offered $1,000 per month and a 3-month renewable contract in exchange for their service to the warlord.
According to the same report, one group of mercenaries accepted Russia’s offer while another refused.
The mercenaries were reportedly trained at Russian military camps in Syria and were paid for by the country, too. Also, in March, Russia struck a similar deal with hundreds of mercenaries working for the Assad regime in the country’s southern city of Quneitra.
Earlier in August, local sources in Libya also stated that Russia sent more than 300 mercenaries that included former Daesh members from regions controlled by the Syrian regime in the east of the country.
Moreover, according to sources, some mercenaries sent by Russia were in fact former members of Daesh - fighting for them for over two years - and had returned to Deir Ezzor by signing a "compromise" with the regime, later joining the Jerusalem Brigade.
Estimates say more than 2,000 mercenaries from Syria have been sent by Russia to date.
Haftar's militia has large contingents of criminals and mercenaries, a far cry from his description of his men being a disciplined and professional force.
One of the warlord’s senior commanders, Mahmoud al Werfalli, is a fugitive, dodging an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court. While Haftar has failed to invade the capital city of Tripoli on several occasions, the conflict took a new turn with Russian mercenaries from Wagner siding with him. Apart from the group, Haftar has managed to rope in several dozen militias.
The Janjaweed, an armed group from South Sudan, are fighting alongside Haftar. Former Sudanese president, Omar al Bashir, officially converted Janjaweed Militia into the Rapid Support Forces under the command of the National Intelligence and Security Services. They were used to defeat rebel groups in the country in 2013.
A Human Rights Watch’s report revealed that the RSF militias committed war crimes, rape, and displaced civilians in 2014 and 2015 in Darfur. Last year, reports emerged that the first unit of the RSF militia arrived in Libya in order to support Haftar for his operation to capture Tripoli. More than a thousand members reportedly arrived in the oil-rich country. RSF is also led by a warlord, named Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, otherwise known as Hemedti.
Although Haftar claims he is fighting religious extremists, ironically, he is closely working with the Salafist Madkhali, an extremist group supported by the UAE and Saudi.
Furthermore, US Africa Command previously stated that as many as two thousand mercenaries belonging to the Russia-based Wagner Group were believed to be sent to Libya. According to several reports, the Wagner Group is closely linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Last year, US Assistant Secretary for the Affairs of the Near East, David Schenker, stated, that the US will work with European countries to place sanctions on Wagner, citing “the spectre of large-scale civilian killings" by the paramilitary organisation.